Excerpt from Murder Under A Blood Moon

CHAPTER ONE


Madeline Mona Moon sat on the verandah overlooking her four thousand acre horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, eating buttermilk biscuits slathered in gravy and eggs sunny side up with bacon on the side.  It was going to be a busy day. She had an appointment with her lawyer, Dexter Deatherage, to sign legal papers regarding the Moon Enterprises copper mines.  Then she was going to tour the farm with her new estate manager.  Some of the white plank fences had grown a tad shabby, but Mona wasn’t looking forward to the inspection.  Repairing and repainting the fences would be time consuming and expensive, but it had to be done.

Her social secretary, Jetta Dressler, poured coffee for them both before going through the morning mail.

“Anything interesting?” Mona asked, reaching under the table to pet Chloe, her standard poodle.

Chloe smelled the bacon and nudged Mona with her wet nose.

Mona broke a crisp piece in two and fed Chloe half.  “That’s all you get, little missy.  Samuel has already fed you your morning breakfast.” Mona looked up to find Jetta giving her an impatient stare. “Sorry.  You were saying.”

Jetta handed over the morning mail. “Just some social invitations and a request to speak at the Lexington Women’s Club in July.”

“On what subject?”

“They want to hear about your adventures in Mesopotamia.”

“I can’t think of anything more boring.”

Jetta smiled.  “Surely, you can think of something to say

––a single woman, carrying a handgun for protection, working in a foreign country surrounded by dangerous men.  That in itself would be interesting to most women weighed down by the drudgery of their everyday routine.  They’re dying to hear from a woman who has actually experienced life.”

“They want to know if I was swept up by a dashing sheik on a white charger and spirited into the desert for a romantic interlude like in some picture they saw with Rudolf Valentino.”

“Well?”

“And if I rode a camel.”

“Let’s get back to the handsome sheik.”

“I rode a donkey.”

“Let’s get back to the handsome sheik.”

“All I saw were poor, desperate people oppressed by the Ottomans and then the British.  They had nothing on their minds but survival.”

“Why do you always have to be so practical, so blunt? I wish I could be swept away by some sheik to his private tent for a little canoodling.”

“You’d have to share him with his other three wives.”

“What?”

“Muslim men are allowed four wives.”

“I don’t think I’d like that.”

Mona grinned.  “Be careful what you wish for, Jetta, if it concerns handsome dark-haired men with lascivious designs.”

“Like the attractive Lord Farley?”

“What brought his name up?”

“Lord Farley is always bringing you flowers and candy.  Those are pretty strong indications he wants to formally court you.”

“Phsaw. You make it sound like Farley wants to go steady and pin my sweater.  He just wants a new notch on his belt.  Well, I’ll not give him the satisfaction.  He’ll tire of chasing me sooner or later and try his luck with some other filly.”

“If you say so, but he looks mighty determined.”

“Let’s talk about something else, shall we?  How are the repairs to Moon Manor coming along?” Mona asked referring to the remodeling of her ancestral home after a fire devastated the west wing of the mansion. The cause of the fire had been declared arson by the police, and Mona’s previous housekeeper, Mrs. Haggin, had been arrested for the fire. She had also been indicted as a conspirator in the murder of Manfred Michael Moon, Mona’s uncle.

Mrs. Haggin’s husband, Mr. Archer, fled before he could be thrown into the hoosegow.  Mona hoped she had seen the last of his backside forever.

Jetta looked at her notes.  “The servants’ elevator for the west wing is going to be installed this week.  Once installed, they will build the encasement around it.”

“Do they have the correct stone?”

“The material will arrive tomorrow, and it is a match for Moon Manor’s existing masonry.  In fact, it came from the same quarry in Indiana.”

“Same color?”

“Exactly the same,” Jetta repeated.  She was well aware Mona worried about making a mistake restoring Moon Manor to its former glory.  Jetta thought she was right to be concerned.  Many of the locals considered Mona to be an outsider, and worse, a Yankee. Some Bluegrass stalwarts would be happy to see Mona to fall on her face. The sight of a rich and powerful newcomer making a fool of herself would reinforce their dislike of outsiders.  It didn’t matter that Mona employed over a hundred people and kept them from poverty’s door during the Depression, or that she began a health program to rid her workers’ children of lice, rickets, and worms––common childhood ailments during the 1930s.  All they saw was that Mona was chauffeured about in a red and black Daimler during the week, but didn’t go to church on Sunday, even with a driver to take her.  Shame.  Shame.

While tongues wagged behind Mona’s back, everyone was polite after hearing the rumor she kept a gun in her purse and would shoot anyone who looked at her cross-eyed.  How folks knew Mona kept a pistol in her purse, Jetta didn’t know, but she suspected Mona’s Aunt Melanie might have played a part in spreading the gossip.

Jetta eyed Mona eating her breakfast. The sun filtered through the trees highlighting Mona’s platinum hair and fair skin, giving her an ethereal quality.  Even Mona’s golden eyes lent her otherworldliness hard to describe unless one saw it for herself. She knew Mona must realize what people were whispering, but she didn’t seem to care, as Mona’s facial expression was always one of composure and confidence.

For a moment, Jetta wished she could be more like Mona, but she let her behavior be dictated by others’ opinions too often.  She was determined to emulate Mona and steer her own future, but Jetta’s thoughts were disturbed by Violet, Mona’s personal maid, carrying a small silver tray, hurrying out on the verandah.

“Miss Mona, a telegram has come for you,” Violet said, breathlessly and obviously dying of curiosity.

Mona picked up the telegram and noticed Violet had stationed herself where she could read it when opened. “Thank you, Violet.  That will be all.”

“You might need to answer it, Miss Mona. The messenger boy is waitin’.”

Mona grinned.  “All right, Violet. Can I read it by myself first?”

Violet stepped back, waiting impatiently.  Telegrams were exciting, and Violet wished she would get one someday. She had only received two letters in her entire life and secretly wished for a pen pal from the other side of the world.

“Oh, no!”

“What is it, Miss Mona?” Jetta said, alarmed at Mona’s distraught expression.  She had never seen Mona so upset.

Mona handed her the telegram.  “It’s from my friend, Lady Alice Morrell.  She says her life is in danger, and I should come at once.”

“Does she say why?” Jetta asked, picking up the telegram and reading it.

“I must go to her.  She would never send such a message if she wasn’t in real need.”  Mona turned to Violet, who quivered with anticipation.  “Violet, have Thomas bring up my steamer trunks. Pack them quickly.  I’ll keep my appointment with Mr. Deatherage, but when I get back, we’ll have Jamison drive us immediately to Cincinnati to catch the express train to New York.”

“Us, Miss?”

“I certainly can’t go to England without my maid.  Whatever you don’t have, we’ll either purchase on the ship or in London.”

“I’m going across the ocean . . . with you?”

Mona turned to Jetta.  “I’ll need you to make travel arrangements.”

“It’s very short notice, but I’ll do what I can,” Jetta replied, a little flustered. She had never made transcontinental preparations before.

“You must do more than that.  You must take over the mansion repairs and the running of the farm.  Do you think you’re up for it?”

“I can try.”

“You must do more than try.  You must succeed.  Of course, you may wire me if you need assistance. Mr. Deatherage will handle all my routine business concerns, but he will help you carry through.”

“If you insist.”

“I must.  There’s much to do before I travel this afternoon, so I’ll leave you now.” Mona stood and gathered the telegram from Jetta.  “Violet, close your mouth and move.”

“Yes, Miss.  Right away, Miss.”  Violet scampered off to find Thomas, the butler.

Jetta said, “Miss Mona, the Western Union boy is waiting for an answer.”

Mona’s cheeks grew a healthy pink color.  “Yes, I must

respond to Lady Alice.  Thank you for reminding me.”  She hurried to the front hall and found the messenger waiting patiently.

“Any message, Miss?” he asked, doffing his hat.

“Just say this.  ‘Amiens.’”

“Amen, Miss?”

“No.  A M I E N S.”

“Is it a who or a what, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Amiens is where the Allied forces launched a

counterattack against the Germans in the summer of 1918.  It was the beginning of the end for the Great War.”

The telegram boy stood dumbfounded. He had written many an odd message in his time, but this was very peculiar.  “Yes, but what does it mean?”

“I’m coming!”